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I am curious about the impact the Internet, IP back-ends and mixed/mobile convergence will have on this industry.

Choice Awards and Miscellany

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Last week, nominations were closed for the Andrew Seybold Choice Awards to be presented at our Wireless Dinner the first night of CTIA Wireless 2007 (March 27). In previous years, our partners decided which products and services deserved recognition. This year, we opened the nominations process to all. I am pleased we did as we have a number of great entries and I wish we could give an award to everyone who sent in a nomination. Of course, we must whittle the entries down to one in each of the six categories, but it will be a difficult task.

With open nominations, we learned that a wide variety of new and innovative products and services have been coming to market. The nominated products and services must have been available commercially between January 2006 and February 15, 2007, so we are looking at recent entrants in the wireless marketplace. Categories include Best Wireless Device, Consumer Application, Business Application, New Service, Design and New Company.

We received the most entries in the consumer and business applications categories, but the other categories are also well populated with entries. Reviewing all of these is proving to be a daunting task, but a great learning experience. Some entries we knew about and others were a complete surprise. And I am sure there are other products and services deserving of consideration but not submitted in time. (Please try again next year.)

Not only is this a great opportunity for us to see many new and innovative products and services, it is also an indication of what companies think the trends will be and what products and services will sell. I am surprised that we only have a few entries for products pertaining to location-based services; I expected more. It is also interesting that several companies that submitted entries submitted the same basic application for both the consumer and business applications awards. As we become an increasingly mobile society, the line is blurring more each day between what we use for work and for play. Just as our work time is interspersed with some personal time, our personal time is now interspersed with some work time. I doubt that anyone who employs wireless in both their business and consumer lives can figure out exactly how many hours they spend in work mode these days.

While, as expected, there are more entries in the consumer application category than in the business category, there are only about 35% more, not the 50% or 75% I expected. This is also a good sign because while most of the new applications and devices are designed for consumers, the growth of wireless connectivity is just as important on the business side.

Nominations came from network operators and companies large and small, from chip-level products to fully-integrated solutions and from wireless devices to wireless device accessories. Bluetooth is big on the list, but not limited to earpieces. There are innovative Bluetooth products for the car and Bluetooth anywhere -- a Bluetooth device that figures out which device you are using and automatically mates to it, a feature promised by the Bluetooth SIG eons ago. It just goes to show that technology ideas take longer to come to fruition than anyone expects.

By the end of this week, we will have whittled the entries down to the finalists and we will be doing one more set of evaluations to determine the winners in each category. But as I said, it will be tough to come up with only one winner in each category.


Another sign that the wireless industry will have a good or great year is the number of requests for meetings at CTIA Wireless at the end of this month. Along with the usual suspects, many companies you would not consider to be mainstream wireless companies are finding that a wireless trade show the size of the CTIA event is a great place to show their content, forge new relationships and to learn firsthand what interests the wireless industry.

For a few years, the wireless industry was getting bigger by getting smaller. With all of the mergers and acquisitions, the big networks continued to grow and large companies were buying up smaller companies that had technologies they wanted. While this is still a trend, there is also a reverse trend in play. WiMAX is bringing new players into the wireless industry, many of the bidders for AWS spectrum are newcomers and I suspect we will see other newcomers on the scene once the fate of the 60 MHz of 700-MHz spectrum is decided and some or all is auctioned.

I am curious about the impact the Internet, IP back-ends and mixed/mobile convergence will have on this industry. The big boys are already posturing and making moves that indicate they believe their future will be secured by offering both wired and wireless services to their customers. Note that I did not say wired and wireless "connectivity." At the same time they are moving toward this converged world, they are quickly recognizing that they need to offer services along with connections.

Some within the Internet community believe that wireless networks should be opened, similar to how wired networks have been, to all who want to use them as transport for their own set of services to their own customers. These people don't understand the realities and differences between wired and wireless infrastructure and capacity.

A wireless cell sector, regardless of the technology, has a specific capacity. This capacity is dependant on both the type of wireless technology and the backhaul capacity from that site and it is finite. The only way to increase capacity (using existing technology) is to build more cell sites closer together so fewer customers are using a particular cell sector at any given time. Sounds easy, but the last five or six cells sites I have been involved with in the county in which I live have taken two to three years to be approved and built.

Network operators have an obligation to their own customers first, and they take that responsibility seriously. They manage the bandwidth for both voice and data over their networks and do their best to ensure that every customer has the best possible user experience. They have limited bandwidth available to them and I believe that as the demand for data services increases we will see network operators employing a variety of methods including Quality of Service, pricing and network management to continue to ensure that their networks provide access to all of their customers all of the time.

Adding wireless capacity is not as easy as splitting the number of homes fed by a cable hub or pulling more copper or fiber down a street. Yes, advances are being made every year and there are new ways to handle capacity using different antenna configurations, more backhaul at sites and cell splitting, but all of these options take time to implement.

I don't think those within the Internet community who are proposing open access understand Shannon's law or the other laws of physics. They seem to believe that wireless capacity is unlimited and they don't appear to know that even in the wired world telephone and cable companies are starting to limit or restrict data hogs on their networks.

Does the fact that we will have new WiMAX, AWS and perhaps 700-MHz network operators coming to the wireless party make a difference? I'm sure it will, but it will take time. Even then, many won't understand the truism that the wireless industry understands so well: "There is not enough radio bandwidth in the world to convert all of our communications to wireless. Wired will continue to play a very important role as we move forward."

The wireless industry is a great environment in which to work. It is becoming more competitive and the rules of engagement are changing rapidly. Wireless is one of the fastest-growing industries of all times, and as it morphs into whatever is next, it's fun to be along for the ride.
Andrew M. Seybold


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